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Definitions

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Part of the Palgrave Histories of Literature book series (Palgrave Histories of Literature)

Abstract

The obvious place to begin a Critical History of science fiction is with a definition of its topic, but this is no easy matter. Many critics have offered definitions of SF, and the resulting critical discourse is a divergent and contested field. One particularly influential approach is that of Darko Suvin (b. 1930), who calls SF

a literary genre or verbal construct whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main device is an imaginative framework alternative to the authors empirical environment. (Suvin, p. 37)

Suvin goes on, usefully, to isolate what he calls ‘the novum’ (plural: nova), the fictional device, artefact or premise that focuses the difference between the world the reader inhabits and the fictional world of the SF text. This novum might be something material, such as a spaceship, a time machine or a communications device; or it might be something conceptual, such as a new conception of gender or consciousness. Suvin’s ‘cognitive estrangement’ balances radical alterity and a familiar sameness, such that ‘by imagining strange worlds we come to see our own conditions of life in a new and potentially revolutionary perspective’ (Parrinder, p. 4).

Keywords

Science Fiction Comic Book Critical History Star Trek Radical Alterity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Adam Roberts 2006

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